Bellone delays moving homeless sex offenders

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone listens at the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone listens at the William H. Rogers Legislature building in Smithtown. (March 6, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile)

The burden of providing nightly shelter to Suffolk's homeless sex offenders will remain solely the East End's for at least the first months of 2013, officials now acknowledge.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had promised last May to move the roughly 40 sex offenders who stay in trailers in Westhampton and in Riverside by the end of 2012.

But on Monday, his office announced it instead would submit a comprehensive plan to better deal with all of the roughly 1,000 registered sex offenders in Suffolk -- not just the homeless ones -- to the county legislature this month. Lawmakers could then vote on the proposal in February.

"The goal was to have a policy in place by the end of the year," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. "Right now, we're still focused on accomplishing that task. The county executive has made it very clear to the East End communities that he firmly opposes clustering trailers out there."

Bellone made the initial pledge at a news conference in May, saying that containing the trailers to Southampton was "terrible public policy." Superstorm Sandy, however, "set back a lot of people's timelines," Schneider said Monday.

The county has been "disproportionately focused" on dealing with just the homeless sex offenders, he said, and not the entire population. The plan being devised by Suffolk police, in conjunction with mental health experts, will consider the fact that many local sex offender residency restrictions are being struck down.

Still, East End officials who had been promised that the trailers would be gone by Jan. 1 expressed disappointment.

"He's got a bit of a credibility problem in that he said he was going to do it," Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), said of Bellone. "But he also said he's still committed to doing it and that he needs more time. But it is frustrating."

The homeless sex offender trailers have been controversial for years. First meant to be moved to different sites around the county, they remained stationary, to growing protests around Southampton Town.

County legislators approved an alternate plan that would have created a half-dozen mini-shelters at industrial parks spread throughout Suffolk, but it was never implemented, and Bellone put no funding for the plan in his 2013 budget.

Bellone aides wouldn't say if the mini-shelters still played a part in the comprehensive plan that the county executive and police are working on. "The resolution will be clear with how we deal with the entirety of the sex offender population," Schneider said.

Still, he said he hopes Bellone redeems himself with the larger plan, and added, "He made a promise that, right now, he can't keep and he's on record," the lawmaker said. "Frankly, I can't make these trailers go away without him."

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